“5 Lessons I Learned When I Created My SAAS”, with Joe Sexton and Mitch Russo

Mitch Russo
Nov 7 · 19 min read

Is it a Market that can be disrupted with superior technology that is easy to use? No one wants to implement products that take 6 months with heavy consulting. That’s the old way and typically what the legacy vendors have implemented over the years. It prevents agility which is a key business driver today.

As part of my series about the “5 Lessons I Learned When I Created My App or SAAS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joe Sexton, former Executive sales leader for CA, Mercury, McAfee and AppDynamics: Board of Director for CrowdStrike, SnapRoute and BrainBox Intelligent Marketing; Executive Advisory Board PagerDuty and Executive Advisor to the CEO for DecisionLink


Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I started out as a computer sales rep for Triad Systems fresh out of college selling computers to auto parts stores in Eastern Kentucky. I was fortunate in that they had a great six month training program before you could actually begin selling. My role involved selling and installing the solution, which automated everything from the point of sale, inventory management and the financials for the owners of the stores. This was back in the mid-eighties when computers for small business owners was still a relatively new concept. It was a great learning experience and great company to work for as a first post college job.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

Regarding DecisionLink, I’ve been a customer and follower of their journey since we brought them into McAfee over seven years ago. I’ve always believed selling Value versus technology has been a key to my success. No one buys technology for technologies’ sake, rather they buy technology to solve business problems that impact business outcomes that create tremendous Value. The challenge has been creating ROIs to reflect this has required expertise and resources that are manual and costly to scale. That is until today’s DecisionLink solution. I believe today’s DecisionLink enables sales reps to have an easy to use, repeatable solution to create their own value proposals that start with a Value Hypothesis for the prospect, proving that Hypothesis with the prospect, then tracking the delivery of that Value so the customer sees what Value was received. This automation and the ease of use for the sales reps to put the Value selling into their hands I believe is a break through and is the missing link for organizations to scale their sales results in a very meaningful way.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

My first job selling computers to auto parts dealers in Eastern Kentucky was for a territory where the previous three sales reps had been fired for poor performance. It was a territory no one wanted but I looked at it as an opportunity for great upside since the expectations were low. I never considered giving up but considered it a blessing to have such a great opportunity. I’ve always been a big proponent of Visualization and Positive Thinking. I dropped out of college for over four years after my sophomore year, doing various sales jobs for commission only, then came back and completed my final two years of college in a year. The reason was getting a job with a salary PLUS commission seemed like a great deal. Paying for school myself and growing up in Eastern Kentucky where career choices were working in coal mines and steel mills gave me an appreciation for what the Technology Industry could mean for my future opportunities. Once I got a taste for how technology could change a business and the outcomes it produced, I was hooked and never considered giving up.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Things are going great today. 2019 has been a memorable year with two of my companies, CrowdStrike and PagerDuty, doing IPOs. This was after the AppDynamics acquisition by Cisco in 2017, where I was the President of Worldwide Field Operations. While grit and resilience has been part of my success, I believe creating environments for Winning Cultures has been the biggest factor in my success. Everyone loves to Win, employees, customers and investors. Winning cultures attract all three.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

Early in my career I was with another sales rep on a call shadowing him. We were meeting with a CIO and the other sales rep was hammering him with his pitch. The poor CIO couldn’t get a word in. After about 25 minutes of this in what was supposed to be a 30 minute meeting, the CIO leans back in his chair, takes off his glasses and puts them on his desk. He was an older fellow and clearly had been through many meetings. He said with a thick Southern drawl, “Son, have you ever sold used cars?” “No, but why do you ask that?” replied the sales rep. “Because you’d be good at that” said the CIO. Lesson learned, you are born with two ears and one mouth. Use them in proportion. Sales is about being a good listener way more than being a good talker.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

As I reflect on the fledgling startups I was involved in that moved to multi-billion-dollar valuations; or the three mid-sized companies that experienced hypergrowth — CA, as mentioned, from $163m to $4B; Mercury from $300m to $1B and acquired by HP for $4.5B; McAfee from $1.2B to $2.5B and was acquired by Intel for $7.7B, I often wonder, what the common thread was? And no, it wasn’t me.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

That question is easy to answer but difficult to do. But doing it well makes all the difference. Hire extremely well then focus on keeping the talent once they come to work for you. I believe this is more than 50% of any successful leader’s role and doing it well lessens the burden of you having to try and do more than you are capable of from a capacity perspective.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Arnie Mazur of Computer Associates and gave me my first big break.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?

We don’t share exact number but here’s a sense. DecisionLink’s ValueCloud® has been commercially available almost four years, has over two dozen customer companies and is approaching 10,000 users. We doubled in the past year, trajectory is increasing and are working with several prospects with over 10K users each. We are profitable, are almost 85:15 in subscription to services ratio and have lost only one customer since introducing ValueCloud®.

What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?

DecisionLink is using SaaS delivered from the cloud through the company’s own web interface or through Salesforce. DecisionLink charges $50-$85 per user per month based on role and volume, have a minimum subscription of 100 users and a modest fee for on-boarding program. The CRM approach makes the most sense.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know before one wants to start an app or a SAAS? Please share a story or an example for each.

I look for 3 things for a company to be successful in the SaaS space.

  • Secondly, is it a Market that can be disrupted with superior technology that is easy to use? No one wants to implement products that take 6 months with heavy consulting. That’s the old way and typically what the legacy vendors have implemented over the years. It prevents agility which is a key business driver today.
  • And last is the CEO business savvy versus just tech savvy? And if not is he willing to learn. I’ve met so many CEOs in the Silicon Valley who are brilliant technologists but can’t tell their story of what business problems their solutions solve in a way most people can understand. 5 stories that did all 3 are AppDynamics, PagerDuty, CrowdStrike, Zoom and Slack. All are successful outcomes that did all three of these well and I’ll be happy to expand on this during the interview.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I really believe DecisionLink can become THE sales methodology that will enable any sales person become more successful. Starting with Value, identifying the Value for what you are selling, then delivering that Value to your customer will create a relationship that will become long term in nature and will lead to more success for the customer, the sales person and their company and the investors in that sales person’s company. I believe it is the Missing Link that will finally close the gap between what sales people want to sell and what prospects want to buy- great business outcomes from hard solving problems via solutions and services at a fair price.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LinkedIn

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Mitch Russo

Written by

Author of The Invisible Organization — How Ingenious CEOs are Creating Thriving, Virtual Companies & Power Tribes — How Certification Can Explode Your Business

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade